From the unlikely locale of Lethbridge, Alberta, a dedicated crew of rock ‘n’ roll renegades have turned the prairie city into a killer band assembly line. Between the fuzzy drug-pop of the Ketamines, jive-talkin’ jangle of the Moby Dicks and science class cavalcade of the Myelin Sheaths, the stable surrounding Mammoth Cave Recording Co. has spawned its own mutated strain.
However, the most unique group from this gang has always been quadrospazzed quartet Fist City. The twin barbs of sibling duo Kier and Brittany Griffiths, razor-blade guitarist Evan Van Reekum and whirlwind drummer Ryan Grieve blast out riot-punk rippers that’ll leave your head spinning. According to Van Reekum (also the co-honcho of Mammoth Cave with local stalwart Paul Lawton), relocating from his hometown into a tight-knit scene was crucial.
“When I left Calgary, the whole city was overcome with a wave of singer-songwriter folk stuff, and I wasn’t too into that,” Van Reekum laughs. “Moving to Lethbridge, I learned that if you do what you want and work really hard at it, that’s way better than battling thousands of people who are doing the same thing. Even though we were playing in different bands, Paul told me early on that a rising tide raises all ships. You share both successes and failures.”
Following a series of gritty releases, Fist City’s sophomore LP It’s 1983, Grow Up! wipes off a few previous layers of scuzz to reveal the catchy set of tunes that were there all along. From surf-rock to shoegaze and a twisted strain of new wave, the supercharged collection sounds like a band reinvented. Yet the even larger shift they’re experiencing at the moment is singer Kier Griffith’s gender reassignment.
“It’s been really interesting and really cool,” says Van Reekum. “His voice is changing a lot, which you can hear on the new record for sure. Compared to our early stuff, it’s way less screechy and high-pitched. He also had a pretty major top surgery, which put us out for 10 weeks because we couldn’t play any shows. We spent that time writing songs and just rallying. It’s been a super positive thing.”
Fist City - “Debbie Get Yr Boa”
Van Reekum is no stranger to change himself, after a stretch spent in rehab taught him how to turn it all around. He’s now been sober for a decade, yet looks back on this time as his motivation to find a focus through music. Few can claim to have bounced back this literally, as the last binge ended in him jumping off a four-story building.
“I was fucked up for four weeks after that and couldn’t walk, but no broken bones, or at least I don’t think so,” he says. “People should give it a try… just kidding! I guess I just did it as a joke or something, but I didn’t really care about my life or myself at that point. It probably came from a really dark place, but we were just at a party, and you know how that shit goes. Here I go, see ya!”
Fast-forward back to the present, and Fist City’s signing with L.A. imprint Black Tent Press may have come from the most unlikely connection of all. After contacting Toronto’s YouTube raunch-pop phenom Tonetta about submitting a song for the Mammoth Cave compilation Bloodstains Across Ontario, he and Van Reekum struck up a friendship. Alongside sharing a label, they’re both charging full steam ahead.
Tonetta – “Ready To Mingle”
“After watching his videos I had no idea what to expect, but he’s a super nice guy,” says Van Reekum. “The craziest thing is that he used to pay someone $10 to upload them each time. If you think about how many he’s put out, that would have been thousands of dollars. But he’s releasing lots of stuff right now because he’s finally learned how to post them himself. Now that he has the power, he’s just non-stop.”